Inspire me for #NaNoWriMo

Send me a word or a line of text to use as a writing prompt for NaNoWriMo

Along with fireworks, bonfires, piles of soggy leaves and pumpkins, November for me means NaNoWriMo. For those of you not familiar with the insider acronym, it’s National Novel Writing Month. The premise is simple: write about 1,500 words every day, without fail, to complete a first messy draft of something new or to finish a messy draft of something that’s been lagging behind.

I’ve dipped in and out of #NaNoWriMo in the past, but I love the idea behind it, the community it engenders, and the discount codes on writing software that can be your if you hit your target. This year I’m not planning on writing a novel (I’m already editing one…) : I want to spend a bit of time having fun with short fiction.

Specifically, I want to use NaNoWriMo to write a draft of a short story (or, lets be honest, a sketch of a short story) every day for the month. I have a handful of prompts ready to go and that’s where i’m turning to you (hello) to suggest a few more.

What i’m looking for are text-based prompts (no pictures- I need to be able to write it on a slip of paper and put it in my prompts jar). It could be a single word, it could be a couple of lines from a poem. A headline from the newspaper. The name of a dish on a menu. A snippet of overheard conversation. I don’t need to know where your suggestions came from- just add it as comment on Facebook, Tweet it to me or put it as a comment on this blog post. If you want to retain privacy then send it in using the contact form.

ASAP is preferred, last suggestions accepted on 31 October.

As an example, a friend recently sent me ‘Place of splinters’ as a prompt: she found it on a map of Scotland on the wall. 

How to fill the first 10 pages of your writing notebook without panicking

I love researching and I love thinking ideas through. Sometimes this means I get mired in my own head: getting thoughts onto paper becomes a chore because they’re never going to be as good as they are in my head. If that chimes for you, scroll to the end of this post for a quick fix.

I love researching and I love thinking ideas through. Sometimes this means I get mired in my own head: getting thoughts onto paper becomes a chore because they’re never going to be as good as they are in my head. If that chimes for you, scroll to the end of this post for a quick fix.

When I’m starting a short story I usually have something that’s brought me to the desk: an opening line, an overheard phrase that suggests a character, a strong concept. I write and think and walk until I’ve got the skeleton of a plot and then I dig in to develop and edit it.

This week I’ve started a non-fiction project that’s not narrative based: without a plot to work towards or characters to get to know, I wanted to make sure I didn’t get in that awful stuck position where nothing gets done and I become more and more frustrated until I want to run away and train to be a productive member of society and run an all-female plumbing company or learn to drive a train.

I’m at the very beginning with this project: I’ve written nothing towards it, researched nothing towards it. I haven’t even done a google search to see if someone else has already written a version of what I’m planning to do. All I had at the beginning of this week was a title that summarised the area I’m interested in, a loose concept of what kinds of writing might be included, and some space in my timetable while the first draft of the novel sits and cools its heels pre-editing.

Normally I’d spend a lot of time on the internet and then a lot of time reading. I’d tell myself to do the research first and the writing second. But that wasn’t how I wanted to approach this project: I wanted to spend the next couple of weeks writing, keeping up the good habits I’d been practising with getting the novel draft done. The last thing I wanted to do was stare at a computer screen and fall into endless-scroll mode.

I was in a good starting place because I’d already identified the problem. Wanting to make the most of the adrenaline rush of energy that starting something new gives me, I thought I’d break unhelpful patterns of behaviour by trying a different approach.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Cut two A4 pieces of paper into long strips. I used an old story draft that had only been printed on one side of the paper for added environmentally-friendly, thrifty value.
  2. Wrote one-sentence starting points that asked me questions about the project from a variety of angles. As well as thematic questions, these included what I thought about the project, how I’d feel if I never finished it, where I saw it being in 1/5/10 years time, what I imagined the blurb on the back of a book about it would say, what my ambition for it was, what I’d be doing instead if I didn’t do it.
  3. Kept going until every strip of paper had something written on it. Even if I thought it was a slightly foolish question or a sentence that wouldn’t elicit anything interesting from me.
  4. Folded each piece of paper over three times and mixed them about. Then I put them in a satisfyingly wide glass jar with a metal lid I found in the swap-pile in the shared studio I write in.

Next time I sat at my desk, I opened a new page on my notebook and picked one of the folded pieces of paper out the jar. I wrote the sentence at the top of the page, set a timer for 6 minutes and wrote whatever came into my mind in response to the sentence until the timer went off.

What I’m really doing is giving myself space to understand the project better

I’m now about halfway through the jar and I’ve already decided to change the title. I’ve got a clearer idea of the timespan I’m wiling to focus on the project for, which parts of it interest me most and what creative need I’m filling by doing it in the first place. What I’m really doing is giving myself space to understand the project better before I put my energies into doing the research. By taking this time to think it through in writing, I’ll know how to pinpoint my research into the areas that really interest me and save myself from being tied up in sticky knots.

A quick fix to try at home when you’re stuck

Set a timer for 6 minutes then answer each of these questions in turn, moving on to the next questions when the timer goes off.

  1. Originally I wanted to write this because I knew it would…
  2. Right now, the thing I want to change is…
  3. At the end of today’s writing session I want to feel… and in order to achieve that I will…


Writing exercise for a bride-to-be (or groom)

A quick writing exercise for a bride or groom in the run-up to their wedding.

While summer may be seen as peak wedding season, I know three fantastic couples celebrating their nuptials at the beginning of October. From my own experience last year, I remember how amazing and frenetic the final weeks are and how special it can be to take a pause and focus on how you’re feeling and what you’re looking forward to most. After a conversation with one of the brides yesterday, here’s a quick writing exercise for anyone wanting to capture some of their thoughts on paper in the run up to their celebrations.


IF YOU HAVE  30 MINS SPARE: For each of the following in turn, set a timer for 6 mins and free-write without editing yourself. When the timer goes off finish the word you’re writing, reset the timer and move onto the next sentence-stem.

IF YOU HAVE NO TIME AT ALL: Do one per day while the kettle boils for your morning tea/coffee.

1. My favourite thing about the preparations so far has been…

2. This time next year, the first thing I will remember will be…

3. On the day of the wedding itself I want to feel…

4. If I were my best friend, i’d tell myself to spend the next week…

5. If I could whisper something in my partner’s ear the night before the wedding it would be…


*As with any free-writing exercise, keep your eyes and your pen on the page and remember that you’re writing for your eyes only, not to share with anyone else. Enjoy losing yourself in the flow for a few minutes and appreciate the moment!


My own favourite piece of pre-wedding prep: checking the ring cushion fit on the surprise wedding pony and reminiscing with my mother about the pony my grandfather used to ride


%d bloggers like this: